“Brussels has the best environment for networking” says Frank Schwalba-Hoth

Newcomers are therefore less rejected or less considered as a threat, they are even considered as an enrichment.” Frank Schwalba-Hoth, a former green MEP says whilst discussing Brussels, networking and lobbying.

Frank has had political leanings throughout his life, ever since his national service, where he decided to be a pacifist. Upon entering university, he created the first Green student union in Germany – going on to become a founding member of the German green party in 1980 and soon after, became the first parliamentarian for the Greens in the state of Hessen.

He was then elected to the European Parliament in 1984, and within it, rose to co-president of his political group in 1986. He has been living in Brussels ever since.

Having worked within the “Brussels Bubble” for more than 30 years, Frank decided to work independently – coaching people coming to Brussels on how to work the networks of the city. He hosts big networking events such as Soirée Internationale, which gave him the nickname “The king of networking”.

Episode 1: Place du Luxembourg

Brussels Express starts today a cycle of 1 minute videos. We want you to discover or rediscover Brussels through the eyes of our expatriates. We will guide you to squares, markets, museums, monuments, restaurants, bars, etcetera etcetera. Today we follow the German expat Frank Schwalba-Hoth to the Luxembourg square. If you have a brilliant idea for an episode don't hesitate to contact us! You can be the next one!

Publié par Brussels Express sur samedi 28 octobre 2017

 How is networking in Brussels?

I have been in 82 different parliaments, and Brussels still stands out as a place where many incredible contacts are possible. Why? Because Brussels has the best environment for networking. It is not only one national background – but 28 (and even more). Most politicians arriving here, are known in their country of origin, for for others their faces are unknown. If you approach such a national key person, they are in general positively surprised that someone recognises them. In addition: we have a much higher fluctuation than on a national level. Over half of the MEPs are not re-elected, and some 80% of EU Commissioners are not reappointed.

And what about Lobbying?

Lobbying has, in general, a negative connotation, but for me – if it is done professionally and with transparency – it is an integral part of our democratic society. Look at the EU; it is hard for someone working in Brussels in one of the EU institutions to predict what a legislative EU decision would mean for those living in Northern Finland or Southern Portugal. Brussels needs consultation. EU decisionmakers need the contacts which represent the ideas of those who later will be concerned by EU decisions. Lobbying is, therefore, part of this consultative feedback.”

How has Brussels changed since you first arrived here?

More competences for the EU, more rights through the Treaty revisions for the EP and a doubling of the number of MEPs. Before the Maastricht Treaty, this meant: most lobbyists focussed 80% on the Commission, 15% on the Council and 5% on the EP. Now it is 40% Commission, 40% EP, 10% Council and 10% others.

How does Brussels compare to London for networking and lobbying?

Brussels is certainly more openminded. In general, we do not have “party dictatorships”. MEP are not obliged to follow a party line, in crucial questions, they follow much more their individual conscience that in national parliaments (who are divided by MPs supporting either government or opposition). In addition: with MEPs from more than 200 political parties, it is “normal” that a trade unionist meets as well conservative politicians, that a catholic lobbyist meets left-wingers and an industry lobbyist meets with Greens.

And how is Brussels as a multicultural city?

London, Paris, Berlin, they are primarily megacities with global fascination and with millions of tourists. Only to a second or even third degree, they are the seats of their national state institutions. Compared to them Brussels with only one million inhabitants is small. But: as the capital of the EU, tens of thousands of newcomers have arrived – very diverse, quite well educated, sometimes a little bit lost, but in general value-driven and open to new ideas and new contacts. For most of them, networking is, therefore, an integral part of their life – even if most of these contacts are taking place in the EU quarter and the Brussels communes nearby: Ixelles, Etterbeek and St. Gilles.